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Sagan om Prinsessan Bulleribång Lena Frölander-Ulf and Hannele Mikaela Taivassalo, Sagan om Prinsessan Bulleribång (The Tale of Princess Hullabaloo)

Schildts & Söderströms (Finland),  2006.

Reviewed by Martin Murrell in SBR 2016:2

Review Section: Backlist

Text and illustrations by Lena Frölander-Ulf, text by Hannele Mikaela Taivassalo

Young children’s books often feature dragons and princesses, and this one is no exception. The fascination they arouse is particularly strong at the moment. In Nick Jordan’s recently published picture book, Teapot and the Dragon, it is, true to form, the princess who needs saving, albeit by a vegetarian dragon, while in this story from Finland it is the princess who boldly goes to the rescue of her kidnapped beloved. Told in verse, in 38 delightful quatrains, the story gets off to a good start:

In a far-off country called Capuche,
Where war was incredibly rare,
There dwelt a princess named Hullabaloo,
With a crown on her tousled hair.

The special feature of this story is the role of a no-nonsense princess as saviour of the day. She is the one who proposes, to a blushing prince from a country called Close By, and it is she who succeeds in rescuing him by knocking out the dragon that holds him prisoner and climbing up the prince’s beard dangling out of his cell window to reach him. In giving her some of the strength of a feisty Pippi Långstrump (Longstocking), the authors are also inverting the Grimm Brothers’ tale of Rapunzel (or the much older tenth century Persian tale of Rudaba). Other characters in the book are the princess’s parents, a large wounded bird, a troll and a wizard. As in fairy tales generally, certain characters superfluous to the storyline, such as the prince’s parents, courtiers and servants, are invisible.

The conventional gender pattern in fairy tales has often been criticised, and recent children’s writers have made conscious efforts to rid themselves of stereotypes. The Swedish author Per Gustavsson, for example, has also produced stories featuring fearless princesses. However, there are many folktales in the oral tradition, a number in my own repertoire, where the real heroes are in fact the women, with the menfolk portrayed as subservient and less capable, and some of these narratives predate any authored fairy tales. In one story I tell, a milkmaid ends up marrying the kidnapped prince she alone manages to rescue. In another, a Cherokee girl with a limp pushes a witch into a fire while the young braves cower nearby. Plus ça change...

The Tale of Princess Hullabaloo is a modern type of fairy tale with a heroine happily saddled with a rather gutless future consort: after all, if the girl could overcome the dragon so easily, why couldn’t the boy? But the four-to-five-year-olds this book is intended for are unlikely to worry about such details. The story flows along easily, with obstacles overcome, towards its happy conclusion, the wedding soon to take place. That the young prince’s beard could grow so long so quickly – it is longer than the old wizard’s – might worry an adult reader, as too might the illustrations generally, incorporating a rather poorly drawn dragon and a prince, still wearing his crown in his cell, with the looks of a grandfather. Of course, if a child raises these points, they could lead to some interesting discussion. Fortunately the verse is great fun to recite, and the reciter’s voice and gestures may be enough on their own to create a rich set of images for the child listener, right up to the last stanza:

Goodbye to you too, Gentle Reader,
For now comes the final full stop,
Even if our princess’s adventures
Go on till she, and we, finally...

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